The Doctor Is In ... the Fiction Room!
I’ve just finished reading the lush, lyrical Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, MD, which seamlessly weaves together the experience of being a physician with a compelling family story. Besides laying out fascinating details of illness and surgical procedures (at times more than I could stomach), the book got me to wondering how many other authors are trained as physicians, and why they choose to depart from their professional training to write books.
As it turns out, there is a long literary tradition of doctors writing fiction. A few of the classics are Anton Chekhov, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mikhail Bulgakov, John Keats, and W. Somerset Maugham. (Who knew?) There is also a long and growing list of modern examples. Tess Gerritsen, author of the Rizzoli & Isles suspense series (now also a hit show on TNT), was a successful internist before she became a novelist. Along with fellow doctor-turned-author Michael Palmer, Gerritsen has led workshops for doctors who want to become writers. She states in her blog that often doctors have a hard time accepting that writing is hard work, and it doesn’t always come naturally “for people who’ve been educated in the hard facts of science. They wanted formulas. They expected algorithms. They don’t like this “you’ll know it when you feel it” stuff.”
So why do doctors become authors? Some, like Gerritsen, wanted to write before they became authors. “I was a writer long before I became a doctor,” she says. Others, like Ethan Canin, author of America America, believe that there is a strong connection between the two professions; one inspires the other. Doctors are exposed to extraordinary, life-changing events in their medical work, which becomes great fodder for good stories. They see the human experience in ways that are not often revealed to the rest of us, and books are a great way for them to share what they know.
Whatever their motivation, doctor-authors present us with challenging, emotionally charged tales, whether or not they actually involve medicine. Like many of our library patrons, I was moved and challenged by Cutting for Stone, and I’m eager to read more of what these writers have to offer. Here are some contemporary doctor-authors and books I’d like to try. If you read any of these, let me know what you think!
Chris Adrian, The Children’s Hospital
Ethan Canin, America America
Michael Crichton, Pirate Latitudes
Tess Gerritsen, Harvest
Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
Vincent Lam, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures
Daniel Mason, The Piano Tuner
Michael Palmer, The Sisterhood
“Emily, Alone’’ is an honest, moving portrayal about what it’s like for a woman to grow old and feel forgotten. Author Stuart O’Nan first introduced readers to Emily Maxwell in his 2002 book, “Wish You Were Here,’’ which takes a microscopic view of three generations during their annual vacation at the family lake house. In this first book, Emily, who was recently widowed, deals with her grief as well as disappointment in her two grown children.
Seven years later, O’Nan revisits Emily, now in her 70s, in “Emily, Alone’’. She still lives in her Pittsburgh home where she and her husband raised their family. She rues the changes in her neighborhood, now that she is the only one left of the old gang. She longs for more visits from her family, but regretfully knows her opinionated personality over the years has built a wall that keeps her son and daughter at a distance, except for rare obligatory holiday gatherings. She grows weary of having to go to funerals of old friends.
Despite her loneliness, Emily surprises herself with new-found strength to face life head on. She takes care of her ailing, chain-smoking sister-in-law, Arlene, who used to chauffeur Emily around. She buys her first car on her own while getting over her trepidation of driving. She braves the snow to walk her beloved, elderly dog, Rufus. O’Nan has an uncanny talent of writing about the minute details of a single day from the character’s perspective. Readers will want to cheer Emily on, wanting her to keep making the most of her twilight years. Check our catalog
TV Series at your Library: Party Down
Originally aired on Starz March 2009-June 2010
Recommended for fans of Parks & Recreation, The Office, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Judd Apatow films
Along with cult favorites Freaks & Geeks and Arrested Development- Party Down certainly earns its spot in the “Beloved Shows Cancelled Way Too Soon” club. Although, the show’s short run might not be such a bad thing now that the episodes exist on DVD at the library and, for the time being, are available on Netflix Instant. Party Down’s half-hour episodes only lasted two seasons which make it easy to digest without requiring a lot of time to commit to yet another show.
The show follows six aspiring Hollywood actors and writers working for the small-time catering company “Party Down.” Each episode is a different Los Angeles party or event that the catering team has been hired to work. The events range from Sweet 16 birthday parties and private school fundraisers to Russian mafia celebrations and senior citizen mixers. The guests and hosts of these parties usually lead exotic, affluent lives that add a new dimension of comedy to every episode.
While the parties are absurd enough to keep the show interesting, its really the “Party Down” team that hooks viewers. Each character has their own dreams and aspirations. There’s the screenwriter, the comedian, the pretty boy, the actress past her prime, and the team manager trying to inspire the team to care more about their catering job. They sound like caricatures, but the show is written so well and each cast member plays their part with such brutal honesty, earnestness, and nuance that its impossible not to like each one of them, even as their situations become more pathetic. This is especially true of Adam Scott who plays the main character Henry Pollard; an actor best known for doing beer commercials who decides to leave acting behind. He comes back to “Party Down” so he can earn an income while trying to figure out what to do next. Henry is lost and confused, but I realized that the show provides comfort by highlighting that nobody really has it all together, and this is just as true with the rich “successful” types that host the LA parties as it is with the down and out catering members.
Party Down’s comedic style is dark and situational. Fans of British and documentary style comedies will likely enjoy Party Down’s grim nature. The style feels very real and you get the impression that the show’s producers and directors (which include Paul Rudd and The Wonder Years’ Fred Savage) really understand the culture surrounding these struggling Hollywood wannabes. You wish the best for the team members, but the show is too honest about the cutthroat, bottom line, and dispensable nature of Hollywood to resolve any of these characters easily. Luckily, there’s plenty to laugh at and the show only gets funnier as you continue watching it. So check out the DVDs at the library, sit back, and enjoy the party.
What to watch next? Try HBO’s Extras starring Ricky Gervais.
"Among Others'' great coming-of-age tale
“Among Others’’ by Jo Walton is a wonderful coming-of-age story told through the journal of 15-year-old Morwenna Phelps. Mori and her twin sister enjoy playing with the fairies that live among the industrial ruins of their Welsh homeland. They frequently try to escape from the clutches of their mother, who is mad and practices witchcraft. When their mother tries to use the fairies in one of her evil schemes, the girls thwart her, but at a terrible price: Mori is seriously injured and her sister is killed. Mori flees to her father, who left the family when the girls were only 2.
She is sent to an English boarding school, where she is teased for her accent and walking with a limp. She finds solace in her beloved science fiction books and visits to the library. I loved Mori’s references to Tolkien and Lord of the Rings, which made me remember how I also found comfort in books during those tough teen years. A tribute to science fiction, fantasy, libraries and interlibrary loans, “Among Others’’ is a magical tale that’s hard to put down. Check our catalog
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"Tiger's Wife'' a Mesmerizing Novel
“The Tiger’s Wife’’by Tea Olbreht unfolds in an unnamed Balkan country scarred from the aftermath of civil war that split Yugoslavia into several independent countries in the 1990s. Natalia is a young, idealistic doctor following in her beloved grandfather’s footsteps.
The book begins with Natalia traveling on a mercy mission to an orphanage to inoculate children. During the journey, she receives the shattering news that her grandfather has died mysteriously, far from home. In her grief, Natalia recalls sweet childhood memories of going with her grandfather to visit the tigers at the zoo. She recounts how he often read to her from a worn copy of “The Jungle Book’’, which he always carried in his suit jacket.
While Natalia investigates the strange circumstances of her grandfather’s death, she remembers two fable-like characters he told her about from his past -- the Tiger’s Wife and The Deathless Man. These magical stories, steeped in local customs and superstitions, are mesmerizing and unforgettable. Author Tea Obreht, who was born in Yugoslavia in 1985 and came to the United States when she was 12, has penned a stirring debut novel about her homeland. Check our catalog
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